The first group of Philippine workers has returned home from Libya Saturday. The workers spent days sheltering in their residences as the north African nation erupted in violent anti-government protests.
Close to 100 civil engineers, architects and other highly skilled workers landed in Manila’s international airport after their Paris-based construction company, Vinci Grands Projets, placed them on flights out of Libya.
Civil Engineer Pem Dapdap arrived with about two dozen coworkers. Speaking in a mixture of English and Tagalog, a local Philippine language, he called the situation outside their apartments near Tripoli "complete lawlessness." "It’s terrifying there. A horrible situation!," he said.
Dapdap says on the first night of the protests he and his coworkers were shaken by explosions and sounds of fighting as they ate dinner. He worries about other Filipino workers in the far-flung areas, saying their residences were looted.
Violence erupted in Libya’s major cities more than a week ago, when tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets calling for the ouster of long-time leader Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.
There are 26,000 Filipino workers in Libya. Most of them are highly skilled. The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs says so far 204 workers have been evacuated.
Carmelita Dimzon is administrator of the government agency that handles the welfare of Filipinos who work overseas. She says the Philippine government and the multinational companies that agree to evacuate their workers are trying to act quickly to ensure the safety of the Filipino expatriates.
"That should really be a commitment. And now that we have a crisis, the companies are really taking care of their own workers. And when they saw there was really a need to re-locate the workers, then they moved," said Dimzon.
But getting out safely is not easy, particularly in areas where violence is the worst.
A recruiter for the workers says there are not enough people to staff immigration posts at the Tripoli airport and flights are practically grounded.